Language classes traditionally have food days, justified by their “exposure to culture” standard. I have them twice annually, require describing food en español before eating, which makes for motivated learners.
“Blake, please don’t throw the tortillas,” I admonished. Who would’ve thought I’d need to say such a thing in life, let alone in class? Always on guard for breaches like flying tortillas, I say it calmly, secretly admiring how the corn missile twirled neatly from Blake’s hand to the boy’s across the room, a golden frisbee the receiver instantly dipped into his chile verde and ate. (2000)
These are arts students, so when we learn restaurant dialogue, it must be acted out with props, costumes, no notes in hand. “It has to be elaborate,” one student explained. Today Leigh performed a skit in which she convincingly became a three-year-old who wanted chocolate, not sopa de pollo. Several in the audience sighed, “oh poor thing,” so that Dan, exasperated, exclaimed: “it’s Leigh; it’s not a real baby.” (2001)
from Creative Writing
The old man, my neighbor’s sub today, ratchets slowly up the stairs, coffee mug in hand. I should tell him about the elevator, it’s not easy to find, but am in the midst of retrieving handouts from the printer and meeting with students, don’t remember him again until I return to the hall and find Cierra and Sarah down on their knees with the old man and paper towels, mopping up a large quantity of spilled coffee. He braces himself to rise, one hand on the banister, the other on his knee, muttering in cranky embarrassment that more paper towels are needed. Quick as sparrows, the girls dart down the hall, across the bridge, returning in a flash with white feathers fluttering from their hands.
‘I spilled—they’re helping,” he informs me.
These are my angels, the ones I must recall on the days I want to slap them silly, for those days will come. These are my cherubs, who restore faith. (2008)
Brendan J, adept open mic MC; Grace and Madison’s Pokemon performance with friends who shriek and applaud; Franklin’s rocking bilingual piece on being Mexican; Emily B’s passage from wheelchair to mic, walking with only light aid at her elbow while Brendan C spikes the applause and keeps them applauding til she arrives; sixth grader Jesse reading with his cap on sideways while his Mom, easel on stage, draws the taco he’s eulogizing. I arrived at 6:45 a.m.; now it’s 9:30 at night and I can’t count the trips I’ve made up the stairs from Commons to classroom and back. Waiting for Omnia’s parents outside the darkened school, everyone else gone, is respite: easy talk of future plans in cool night air. Driving home at ten, I think how loving and supportive these kids are with each other, how well they ran the show tonight, pitched in to bring, serve, clean up a spaghetti dinner, set up and decorate, fold and stack tables. This is how it should be—all I had to do was open doors. (2009)
It’s writer appreciation day and someone brought Oreos. (We get snacks for writer appreciation.) My middle school students listen quietly, some neatly stacking their Oreos, others carefully balancing them on end, three or four separating them, licking the white icing off, before eating the cookie: reverent, silent engagement with ritualized eating while the words of the story flow from page to page. (2010)
It’s cold and cloudy for the weekly middle school walk. Ben holds his blue umbrella over his head, pointlessly. “That is the point,” he says, unruffled. We cross the Johnson & Wales campus, ignore semi-hostile stares of college students. Yellow leaves drop willfully, no excuse of a breeze. “Look,” says Kristina, “Cha Cha doesn’t have the answer to the meaning of life but suggests you follow your heart.” Mikayla and Indy came coatless, but insist they’re fine, some macho girl thing. The same lonely cat as last week trots from its yard meowing and half the class pauses to pet it. Come, come, we have six blocks to go. I have snatches of conversation: those flying cave monkeys in your story, this running into trees thing should stop, those untied shoes and breaking your neck. I’m told the twigs in Tessa’s hat make a statement—that her head is wooden, I presume—and we’ve introduced ourselves to Izzy, who was sick for five days so we can’t remember her. “I’m Bob,” Nate tells her, “and,” gesturing toward Evan, “this is Bill.” Noses sniffing, cheeks flushed, we tumble back into the warm room and our screens bloom for silent writing after the walk, the vital balance between movement and stillness achieved. I need say nothing, they all fall to, keys clicking, screens filling with words in a hush that lasts and lasts and Cha Cha may not know the meaning of life, but for this moment we might. (2007)